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Psalms 68:33:- “to him who rides across the highest heavens, the ancient heavens, who thunders with mighty voice.”

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The confusion results from the fact that CJB and NABRE use a different numbering system for the verses of some psalms. So 68:33 in NIV is 68:34 in NABRE

Who rides the heights of the ancient heavens, Who sends forth his voice as a mighty voice...

The reason for this is that NABRE and CJB count the inscription ("For the director of music. A psalm of David. A song.") as the first verse.

To the main question: "ancient heavens" may be understood either as the eternal spiritual realms or the physical skies, which are of great antiquity. How one interprets this depends on whether one accepts the idea that Israelite religion once thought of God as as a sky deity - literally a Cloud Rider - similar to pagan high gods. The latter view is supported by Psalm 68:

Psalm 68:5

Sing to God, praise his name; exalt the rider of the clouds.

The idea of the heavens being an eternal spiritual realm, the dwelling place the transcendent God, is supported, for example, by Psalm 89:3

For I said, “My mercy is established forever; my faithfulness will stand as long as the heavens."

Neither of these verses is conclusive. Of course, modern readers do not think of God as ever being a literal cloud-rider, nor to we understand the "ancient heavens" as referring to sky; but the attitude of ancient Israelites is less certain.

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Let me recommend Jonathan Pennington's excellent ~400-page book, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, which was derived from his PhD thesis on the subject. It’s a thorough academic investigation, but not an easy read.

He examines what the Galileans understood as "the heavens" according to their culture, and language. For example, "heavens" is always plural in Aramaic and Hebrew. Their understanding was a plurality of heavens in binary contrast to "the earth." According to Genesis, there are three heavens: the dwelling of birds, of stars, and of God and the angels. In the New testament, the Apostle Paul, an expert in the Tanakh, mentions that he knew a man taken up to the third heaven.

According to Dr. Pennington, "heaven" in Greek is usually singular (except in Matthew where it's translated from the original Aramaic). The concept of heaven (singular) in Greek is that it's the abode of God and the angels.

Psalms contains many poetic structures and theophanies besides the one quoted from Psalm 68, such as in Psalm 18:7-15 ESV

7 Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.

8 Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him. 

9 He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet. 

10 He rode on a cherub and flew;
he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. 

11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
thick clouds dark with water. 

12 Out of the brightness before him
hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.

13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice,
hailstones and coals of fire. 

14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. 

15 Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. 

One would be ill-advised to use such a poetic/allegorical description as the foundation of a theological position regarding the physical nature of God. There is evidence that theophanies and poetic structures were indeed shared among ANE writings such as those of the Akkadians.

The Genesis description of the heavens is also not the same as the popular medieval depictions of a flat earth covered by a half-dome containing fixed stars, nor is there evidence that Genesis evolved from other religious texts.

In fact, ancient cosmologies often describe warring gods, dismemberment, and repurposed body parts in their creation stories. The earth is supported on the backs of large animals such as tortoises and elephants. One of the Greek Titans, Atlas, holds up the heavens. The sun and moon are powerful deities. In profound contrast, the Bible contains NO similar stories. According to Genesis, the sun and moon are simply luminaries—lamps, not gods—and the earth is not supported by any giant animals.

Translations often differ from each other depending on the manuscripts used, the style of translation (literal or paraphrase), the size of vocabulary used, doctrinal interpretations, and tradition. I often check with several popular translations (often the ESV, NASB, and NIV), plus the LXX, the literal Greek or Hebrew, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (and, on rare occasions, the Syriac Peshitta).

Hope this helps.

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As Dan Fefferman correctly points out, some Bibles number the verses differently by numbering the superscription as a separate verse. This means that verse numbering is out by one between some Bibles.

"Ancient Heavens"

Now, to the main question of the OP concerning "ancient heavens". The verse of Ps 68:33 is composed of two clauses in parallel which I would translate thus (literally)

To Him who rides on the heavens of heavens of antiquity

indeed, He sends out His voice of voice of strength

The trick in translating this verse is to recognize the Hebrew noun chains - each of the above clauses ends with a triple noun chain.

  • the first clause is בִּשְׁמֵ֣י שְׁמֵי־קֶ֑דֶם = of heavens heaven antiquity; however, this noun chain should be translated as "heavens of heavens of antiquity". This is presumably another way of expressing "highest heaven" as per Deut 10:14, Neh 9:6, Ps 148:4, etc. The "heavens of heavens of antiquity" simply means that God's throne (the place of the highest heaven, Job 22:12, Ps 115:16, 148:1, Isa 57:15, 2 Chron 6:18, 1 Kings 8:27, etc) is far above everything and existed before anything else.
  • similarly, the second clause has a triple noun chain בְּ֝קֹולֹו קֹ֣ול עֹֽז = "of His voice voice strength"; which again must be rendered "of His voice of voice of strength". "Voice of Voice" is quintessential Hebrew expression meaning, "greatest voice". This is further emphasized by further redundancy by saying "voice of voice of strength" meaning the greatest possible voice - a suitable epithet for God's voice with creative power as per Ps 33:6, 9, Gen 1.

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